Reading About Stonehenge

Self saw Stonehenge for the first time in 2014. Her only souvenir from that time was an English Heritage Guidebook she found in the gift shop. All these years later, while dusting her bookshelves (which haven’t been dusted in probably a decade, she’s a very bad housekeeper) she finds it again and sits down to read it.

Stonehenge consists of a ditch, some animal bones (which in some cases pre-date the ditch, by hundreds of years), and a mixture of rock types.

The largest stones, “some of which weigh over 35 tonnes, are known as sarsens … a type of extremely hard sandstone.” The most likely source of these sarsens are 19 miles to the north, in Wiltshire.

The smaller stones, “known collectively as bluestones,” come from Wales, over 150 miles to the west. “There were originally at least 80 bluestones at Stonehenge, some weighing up to three tonnes.”

How did these stones get to Stonehenge?

Start with the sarsens: “… experiments have shown that stones this size can be dragged on a simple wooden sledge by a team of about 200 people. To drag a stone from the Marlborough Downs to Stonehenge, using a route that, wherever possible, avoided steep slopes, would take about 12 days.”

But why on earth — ? This is, for self, the real mystery of Stonehenge: not the origin of the stones, but why people would dedicate themselves to such a project.

It must have been during a long period of peace — for Stonehenge took time to assemble. And the society must have been fairly organized — or maybe they used slaves? The community that built them must have been fairly large, to spare the use of 200 men dragging stones for 12 days. Maybe they had hundreds of slaves?

Not only that, the stones were worked over, shaped into their current forms. Self can’t even. The strength it must have taken. Perhaps they used the equivalent of a wrecking ball. Did any workers die from accidents during the pulling upright of those stones? Maybe if some of them slipped … self’s imagination goes into such strange places!

What about the smaller stones, the bluestones? They were transported from much farther away (150 miles!) There is evidence that the sarsens were in place starting from around 2500 BC, and were subsequently never moved (Ha!), but the smaller stones were re-arranged several times.

Self remembers that she chose very carefully what kind of tour to take: she found a small group tour, led by a retired military officer, which left Southampton at sunset (since she arrived in London only a few hours before, and had to make a mad dash to Southampton after dropping her suitcases off at her hotel, she kept falling asleep on the bus and nearly missed the tour) and arrived at the stones by walking over a sheep meadow littered with sheep dung. She hadn’t slept at all on the plane from San Francisco and it was bitter cold on that tree-less plain. Her first sight of the monument was a very small bump on the horizon that grew ever larger until it began to resemble a claw against the sky. The approach was almost religious in feeling? The last big tour bus had pulled away. And suddenly: the stones! Approaching them on foot was the right thing: it’s how the earliest people would have approached. In fact, there would have been a long procession of people. Since there were no signs of human habitation in the vicinity, it’s clear the site was considered a place for one activity only: worship.

But worship of what?

Hopefully there will be an answer before she finishes reading the guidebook!

Stay tuned.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge # 90: DISTANCE

This week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge is DISTANCE.

These days, everyone’s talking about and hopefully practicing “Social Distancing”. Since it’s something we should all be doing, we thought a challenge focused on DISTANCE might be an appropriate reminder of its importance.

Self visited New Mexico over the holidays. The place still fascinates.

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Cranes in a field near Albuquerque, New Mexico: Late December 2019

Self loves London’s bridges. She loves the view, she loves the bustling river traffic.

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London, November 2019

Finally, self was fascinated by Cornwall, which she visited for the first time last May, to attend the Fowey Festival of the Arts (Traditionally held in May, the festival’s been postponed to late September),

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Sailboat near Fowey, Cornwall: May 2019

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Christmas Present from Rex (BR, p. 149)

It was a small tortoise with Julia’s initials set in diamonds in the living shell, and this slightly obscene object, now slipping impotently on the polished boards, now striding across the card-table, now lumbering over a rug, now withdrawn at a touch, now stretching its neck and swaying its withered, antideluvian head, became a memorable part of the evening, one of those needle-hooks of experience which catch the attention when large matters are at stake.

Waugh’s Dialogue: On Point

Brideshead Revisited, Chapter V

“Members?” asked a stout woman, in evening dress.

“I like that,” said Mulcaster. “You ought to know me by now.”

“Yes, dearie,” said the woman without interest. “Ten bob each.”

The club is hot, noisy and disagreeable but the boys are extremely flattered when, “without its being ordered, the waiter immediately brought a plate of eggs and bacon.”

They immediately fall to.

“That’s another six bob,” said the waiter.

The dialogue is absolutely delicious.

Stay tuned.

Cordelia, Sebastian’s Sister (Age: 10)

“You are fond of wine?”

“Very.”

“I wish I were. It is such a bond with other men. At Magdalen I tried to get drunk more than once, but I did not enjoy it. Beer and whisky I find even less appetizing. Events like this afternoon’s are a torment to me in consequence.”

“I like wine,” said Cordelia.

Alas! BR, Chapter III

  • I returned home for the Long Vacation without plans and without money.

To Be In Such a World! BR, p. 50

It’s not like self is even getting that much of a Catholic vibe, to be honest.

What she is getting a lot of are the aesthetics of being young, male, white, and attending Oxford:

It was the last Sunday of term; the last of the year. As I went to my bath, the quad filled with gowned and surpliced undergraduates drifting from chapel to hall. As I came back they were standing in groups, smoking; Jasper had bicycled in from his digs to be among them.

I walked down the empty Broad to breakfast, as I often did on Sundays, at a tea-shop opposite Balliol.

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Oxford University, November 2018

Sentence of the Day: BR, p. 37

While the narrator and his boring chum Collins take themselves to Ravenna (which no one will be going to for the duration because COVID-19) for the summer:

  • I wrote long letters to Sebastian and called daily at the post office for his answers.

Ah, the pining!

Stay tuned.

A Word of Advice, Cousin

Brideshead Revisited, p. 36:

“None of these people you go around with pull any weight in their own colleges, and that’s the real test. They think because they’ve got a lot of money to throw about, they can do anything.

And that’s another thing. I don’t know what allowance my uncle makes you, but I don’t mind betting you’re spending double. All this,” he said, including in a wide sweep of his hand the evidence of profligacy about him. It was true. My room had cast aside its austere winter garments, and by not very slow stages, assumed a richer wardrobe. “Is that paid for?” (the box of a hundred cabinet Partagas on the sideboard) “or those?” (a dozen frivolous, new books on the table) “or those?” (a Lalique decanter and glasses) “or that peculiarly noisome object” (a human skull lately purchased from the School of Medicine, which, resting on a bowl of roses, formed, at the moment, the chief decoration of my table. It bore the motto Et in arcadia ego inscribed on its forehead.)

“Yes,” I said, glad to be clear of one charge. “I had to pay cash for the skull.”

“You can’t be doing any work. Not that that matters particularly if you’re making something of your career elsewhere — but are you? Have you spoken at the Union or at any of the clubs? Are you connected with any of the magazines? And your clothes!”

Eights Week, Oxford

Brideshead Revisited, Book One, Chapter One: Et in Arcadia Ego

“Gentlemen who haven’t got ladies are asked as far as possible to take their meals out in the next few days,” he announced despondently. “Will you be lunching in?”

“No, Lunt.”

 

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